History, Holidays, Music, Patriotic, Provo History, Society

Pioneer Day in Utah – ‘Oh Beautiful for Pilgrim Feet

Click to see original imageOh beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness

These words from the second stanza of Katherine Lee Bates’ patriotic song “America the Beautiful” seem to catch the pulse and beat and spirit of the pioneers of this country’s frontiers.

Miss Bates, a native of Massachusetts and late English literature professor at Wellesley College, was said to have received her inspiration for the song from viewing expanses of America from the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1893.

In her lyrics – adapted to the hymn tune setting of “Materna” by Samuel A. Ward – it is doubtful if Miss Bates was thinking exclusively of any specific group of pioneers.

But her inspiration coming from the West as it did, the great pioneering saga of the Mormon Church could scarcely have escaped her attention.

Today, “America the Beautiful” is sung with as much fervor in Mormon congregations as any other patriotic hymn although it could never match William Clayton’s hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” for popularity in the church as a truly pioneering anthem. (The latter was composed on the plains in 1847 specifically to give encouragement to the Mormon pioneers in their difficult trek.)

Honoring the pioneers of this country seems ever appropriate in view of the great contribution they made, leaving the peace and security of the cities and towns to blaze trails and establish homes in the wilderness.

Today – the 24th of July – is Pioneer Day in Utah, a day officially set aside to honor the Mormon Pioneers.

The very first company of Mormons, led by Brigham Young, arrived in Great Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. Advance units entered the valley a day or two ahead of Brigham, who was ailing at the time. The day he arrived, July 24, was designated for the official observance.

In communities across the state, the pioneers are being honored today. In Utah Valley, the biggest celebration probably is the one at Spanish Fork called Fiesta Days. Salt Lake City traditionally holds a major Pioneer Day fete, “Days of ’47.”

Mostly, the celebrations feature entertainment, but the significance of the commemoration comes through clearly.

The boundless faith, indomitable will, and perseverance of the pioneers represent a story that will never grow old nor lack for qualities of which heroes are made.

The Herald joins today in paying homage to the pioneers. May their deeds live on to provide inspiration and motivation to present and future generations.